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Athens Prize for Literature 2010

  The Athens Prize for Literature for Greek and Foreign Fiction has been released by (de)kata literary journal. Seven Greek and eight foreign novelists are nominated for the best Greek and Foreign Novel of 2009. The winners were announced at Stoa Spyromiliou, Citylink in Athens, in October the 20th at 7.30 am.
The 15 novels were proposed my their publishers. Each of the two juries are consisted of five Greek novelists. The prize and award ceremony is sponsored by Mont Blanc. An art work of sculpture by Greek artist Thodoros and a Mont Blanc pen accompanies each award. The previous winners were: 2007 “Hotel Lutetia” by Pierre Assouline, 2008 “The Speed of light” by Havier Cercas), 2009 “The Kindly ones” by Jonathan Littell.
The finalists in the Greek novel section are:
1. Styliana Galinikis, Everything is going (about) well
2. Vasilis Gourogiannis, Red at the green line
3. Nikos Davettas, The Hebrew bride
4. Angela Dimitrakakis, Inside a girl like you
5. Telemachos Kotsias, On the other shore
6. Demitris Sotakis, The miracle of the breath
7. Ersi Sotiropoulos, Eve

The contenders for the foreign novel award are:
1. Ketil Bjorstad, Til Musikken
2. Karen Conelly, The Lizard Cage
3. Junot Diaz, The Brief wondreous life of Oscar Wao
4. Ma Jian, Beijing Coma
5. Rawi Hage, De Niro’s game
6. Vladimir Makanin, Ncnys (The terror)
7. Santiago Ronkaliolo, The memoir of a lady
8. Janathan Safran Foer, Extremely loud & incredibly close.

The winner of the Best Greek Novel is “The miracle of the breath” by Dimitri’s Sotakis (born 1973) author of three novels.
The winner of the Best Foreign Novel is "Beijing Coma” by Ma Jian. The author sent a letter to the jury which was read at the ceremony.

MA JIAN’S LETTER to the jury

I am immensely honoured and humbled to be awarded the Athens Prize for Literature, and grateful for the opportunity it gives me to feel a formal connection to a country and culture that I revere. As a young man, when China represented to me dark, crimson fear, impenetrable walls, suppression of the spirit, Greece represented freedom, transparency, the nobility of the unfettered mind, the sun. Over the years, the words of Greek poets from Homer to Odysseus Elytis have inspired me; and after a visit to Athens and Paxos a few years ago, images of the great monuments, views of the blue Aegean and the sound of breezes moving through ancient olive groves have become beautiful memories.

Beijing Coma was written to try to make sense of personal memories - both beautiful and ugly - of the doomed Tiananmen Square Movement. The memories had haunted me for twenty years, and the more ruthlessly the Chinese authorities struggled to erase the events of 1989 from the national consciousness, the more important the task to commemorate them became.
Through literature, I wanted to celebrate the idealism and optimism of the Tiananmen Generation, honour the thousands who were killed and injured in the Massacre, and the countless others who are to this day still persecuted in China for their refusal to lie or to forget.

While writing about desecration and despair, I have always tried to search for beauty and hope. Literature can perform miracles. From the roots of a felled and forgotten past, it can allow a trunk, branches and leaves to grow once more. And it is among the trees of the past, perhaps, and the rustling groves of literature and memories, that we are best able to rediscover our common humanity.

I would like to thank once more the committee for awarding me the prize, as well as my British editor Rebecca Carter, my partner and translator Flora Drew, the Wylie Agency, my Greek publisher Papyros, and Greek translator Marianna Bebetidi, without whose combined efforts the Greek edition of Beijing Coma would not exist.

Ma Jian
17 October 2010

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